If everyone cared for their own wild back yard, the world would be a better place. Northwest California is known for having some of the wildest lands, including the Lost Coast and the tallest trees on the planet, which have been preserved behind the redwood curtain since time immemorial. With less than three percent of the planet’s old growth redwood trees remaining, it is imperative that every ancient tree is protected, especially if they are entrusted into a park system, which has vowed to protect them in perpetuity.
Since 2007, EPIC has been working to protect some of the most well-known giant redwoods in the world from the California Department of Transportation’s destructive highway-widening project. A grass roots coalition of community members, business owners, economists, conservation and Native American groups have opposed the Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project, which proposed tree removal and destruction of the root systems of ancient redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park – trees that are supposed to be protected by the state park system.
Richardson Grove is the first cluster of old-growth redwoods people see as they head up the coast on Highway 101, it is essentially the “redwood curtain” that has allowed Humboldt County to retain its rural character. The redwoods in Richardson Grove also serve as critical habitat for Marbled Murrelets, Northern Spotted Owls and streams going through the Grove are critical habitat for endangered Coho Salmon. Maintaining the integrity of these trees is incredibly important not only to the ecosystem, but to the community, since these trees are the pinch point that do not allow for larger trucks serving corporate chains that are characteristic of sprawling urban areas, and which many people feel would change the essential character of Humboldt County.
For eight years EPIC and allies have organized community support, provided comments, and filed substantive lawsuits that convinced a federal judge to grant an injunction halting the Richardson Grove project citing that the agency had been “arbitrary and capricious” in its use of what the court called “faulty data.” This past December Caltrans revoked its approval of the project. If the agency decides to pursue the project, a complete and comprehensive environmental review and approval process will have to start over. This is a victory, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and rest assured that the trees in Richardson Grove State Park will not be harmed for now.
An important lesson has been learned because of this case, that Caltrans consistently breaks the rules, violating environmental laws and risking important public trust resources. For this reason, EPIC will continue to engage with Caltrans and hold them accountable to the environmental standards that have been put in place to protect our natural treasures.
A related proposal that should be watched closely is Caltrans’ “Last Chance Grade” project, located along Highway 101 ten miles south of Crescent City where the roadbed is sliding into the Pacific Ocean. Caltrans is in the beginning planning phases of this project and is looking at potential alternative routes to the east, away from the sliding cliffs, which includes multiple alternatives that would go through the middle of Redwood State and National Parks. EPIC is committed to finding the least environmentally destructive project alternative that meets the needs of the community, while holding Caltrans accountable to environmental laws.
The loss of large tracts of intact wild lands may be the single biggest threat to our way of life. Climate disruption will only compound the threats that future generations face. In order to secure a sustainable future, it is clear that protecting and restoring Northwest California’s forest ecosystems will provide necessary habitat, clean air and water, carbon sequestration, and improve quality of life for people and native wildlife for generations to come.
In order to hone EPIC’s effectiveness in protecting wild forestlands within our bioregion, we have restructured the organization, added two new attorneys to our staff, and developed a new strategic plan to focus on three primary campaigns:
•Achieving permanent connectivity of working and wild forestlands, a campaign called “Connecting Wild Places;”
•Ensuring best management of public forestlands; and
•Ensuring best management of private industrial forests with an emphasis on the Elk, Mattole and Freshwater watersheds.
With your help, we can protect wild places and ensure that public and private lands are managed responsibly to maintain healthy intact ecosystems. We have our work cut out for us, but we are dedicated and determined to leave our children with a legacy we can all be proud of.